Capturing the Diversity – Fairy Terns and recolonising the island

Here round the eastern flanks of Green Mountain is one of my most favourite parts of the island, and that is saying a lot for an island which I love intensely.  The terrain is a little softer than Green Mountain itself, it is a regularly sloping plain (save for a few very steep drop offs).  It is a mixture of pine trees (casuarinas) and guava bushes, with a few other species thrown in and both the composition of the immediate landscape and the rolling views out to the coast make it especially charming.  But we had more to do, we headed back along the upper path to the car park, and headed out once more, this time up above  the Red Lion and the Bishop’s Path.  We drove the pickup through the small tunnel and parked up at the start of the path.  Its route was wooded for the first part, but openings gave us fantastic glimpses this time to the west coast -the populated part of the island.  All four settlements could be seen, as well as the airbase and the power station up at English Bay and dotted about the multitudes of antenna, seismographs, dishes and radar, as well as the wind turbines, that littered the western part of Ascension Island.  As the walk almost circles an old volcanic ridge, we moved on to the south side of the island.  With their shrill slightly haunting call, and the ghostly white of their plumage, a small colony of fairy terns that live here were soaring through the valley below.  The fairy terns, one of the most beautiful of Ascension’s creatures, are the only sea birds to nest so high up and away from the sea.  Although their numbers are small, they are protected somewhat from the rats and the cats by nesting on a cliffside in small pockets that each year are worn further and further away by their activity.

As to the other seabirds themselves, once the main predators  of eggs and chicks had been suppressed, they seemed to regain confidence in nesting on the mainland once more.  At this time they are restricted to just a few areas; some locations down near where the Wideawakes nested, little patches along the north west and north east coasts close to the huge BBC masts.  The biggest concentration are down in the south east corner  – the most distant from the human habitation and close to the largest set of stacks and islands from which recolonisation could take place.

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